My buddy, Mike, and I recorded a podcast episode discussing the race for Best Lead Actress. Is Emma Stone really a lock to win for her performance in La La Land? How much of a threat is Isabelle Huppert? Listen up!
In the first corner, we have a post-war drama/thriller that questions the boundaries between friends and family. In the other corner, we have a comedy/drama about a likable man who becomes trapped in an American airport terminal during his country’s revolution. Which film will survive this battle? Let’s find out!
Brothers is one of those films that isn’t easy to watch. Starring Tobey Maguire as Sam Cahill, he’s presumed dead when his helicopter crashes in Afghanistan. His wife, Grace (Natalie Portman) and brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) become close due to their mutual mourning and share intimate feelings for each other. Once Sam is rescued and returns home, nothing is the same.
You can tell how this isn’t a light film to watch with the entire family on Thanksgiving. It dives into the harsh truth about the mental trauma that war does to soldiers and the way it tears families apart. As a viewer, you’re torn about what every character should do. How long can Grace wait for the man that she loves to return? How genuine are her feelings for Tommy? Sure, Sam is a victim of cruel events during war, but will he ever be able to leave it in the past to save his family? And Tommy certainly means well, but when does his positive presence become too much of an obstacle for his brother to return to a happy life? These questions are what make Brothers a very good film.
On the other side, who doesn’t like The Terminal? Yes, it’s goofy but it’s a lot of fun with a great big heart! Tom Hanks stars as Viktor Navorski, a resident of Krakozhia that erupts in a civil war making his passport invalid. Therefore, he’s stuck at JFK until further notice, which lasts quite a long time. In the meantime, Viktor learns how to make money so he can continue to buy food at Burger King, he learns how to speak English, makes a number of friends with the terminal employees, and most importantly he meets Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a flight attendant he becomes attracted to.
The Terminal is a romantic-comedy for all ages and it’s very heart-warming. Tom Hanks gives a lovable performance and has fun with the fish-out-of-water comedy in the first half of the film. It has an impressive supporting cast as well, including Stanley Tucci, Diego Luna, and Zoe Saldana. It’s also an underdog story for love, involving a woman who is clearly out of Viktor’s league but somehow warms up to him. And the mystery surrounding the canister is great, giving meaning to Viktor’s trip and persistence to get into New York City. When you think it’s impossible to like Viktor any more, the ending will have your eyes soft with tears. While it’s nothing ground-breaking, The Terminal practically does everything right.
So what’s my decision? Who wins this match-up? While I’d most likely choose The Terminal to watch if both films were on at the same time, I have to pick Brothers because of the impact it had on me. It was the more important film of the two and while I love Tom Hanks and everything he does, Brothers was superior in its message and vision. Plus, the incredible scene towards the end of Brothers might very well be Tobey Maguire’s finest moment in his career. What a suspenseful, powerful scene that was.
Black Swan (2010)
Rated – R
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel
It’s interesting to note that Black Swan and The Wrestler started as one movie. Director Darren Aronofsky said in an interview with MTV that he was developing a project with a love affair between a ballet dancer and a wrestler. Thankfully, he split the two characters into separate movies. The outcome was two outstanding films that stand out on their own.
The films are similar in the aspect that these two entertainers go down a dark and troubled road to the end of their careers, or even worse. Rourke’s Randy “The Ram” was already at the end of his career while he tried to make amends with his other life in the real world. Here in Black Swan, Natalie Portman’s Nina finds herself in the prime of her career when she’s cast as the Swan Queen,which is supposed to be the beginning to the fame she deserves from years of hard work. But soon Nina is overwhelmed with the pressure that went into such a role.
In Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” the conflict of good versus evil is displayed and inevitably concludes in tragedy. Nina is supposed to play both roles. There is no question she can play the White Swan since her beauty, grace, and perfection are her natural attributes, but the role of the Black Swan is questionable. She has to become dark, seductive, and free. The ballet’s director, Tomas Leroy (Cassel) does what he can to stir the pot in her Black Swan, but she’s the only person who can release the wild side of herself.
There are a lot of wheels turning in this film. The former lover and recently retired ballerina, Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) attempts suicide and represents a warning to Nina of things to come. Then there’s Lily (Kunis) who is the new dancer from the West Coast and the complete opposite person and dancer that Nina is. Lily is confident and spontaneous and very persuasive. Nina believes Lily is out to replace her as the Swan Queen and does everything in her power to make sure that doesn’t happen. Finally, there is Nina’s mom, Erica (Barbara Hershey), a former dancer who now babies Nina as if she’s molding the dancer that she wish she could’ve been. Their relationship is a peculiar one. They interact like sisters but there is a suppression that Nina goes through. Erica is suffocating her and Nina lashes out.
The movie takes on a typical plot of the underdog finally getting the role and her ups and downs dealing with the pressure that goes hand-in-hand with becoming a star. But then Black Swan takes a dark turn into Nina’s mind, full of horrifying hallucinations and dreams that she confuses as reality. The toll it takes on Nina is shown through Portman’s extensive and controlled expressions. She’s screaming on the inside while trying to fight her tears on the outside. This might be Portman’s finest work as an actress to date.
While the film revolves around Nina’s pursuit for perfection, she never understands that is something that is impossible to achieve. The film is tragic, showing a young girl who consumed her life in only one of the many circles one can be a part of. There is so much life to live no matter who you are, but Nina’s only concern was the ballet. In that sacrifice, she loses herself in the dangers that is the search for perfection.
Black Swan plays out like a ballet on screen. The music compliments the beauty displayed from the dances and the actors. While there are elements of horror and the occasional attempt at a “gotcha” scare, what’s truly terrifying is watching the potential of a young girl destroy herself as each frame passes. The conclusion will leave you breathless, but I’m not too certain if you will want to rewatch the film anytime soon after.
Rated – R
Directed by Jim Sheridan
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman
There is no doubt of the post-war trauma soldiers who have fought in wars bring back to their homes and families. The way these men and women affect their loved ones after living through terrible events is essentially the big picture in Brothers, a remake of the 2005 Danish film.
This film stars a three-some of talented, young actors. Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal play the brothers, Captain Sam Cahill and Tommy Cahill respectively. Sam is married to Grace (Portman) and they have two young daughters Isabelle and Maggie. Tommy has recently been released from prison for armed robbery. It doesn’t take a whole lot of smarts to figure out who’s supposed to be the good brother and the bad brother.
The movie takes a tragic turn when the Cahill family is informed that Sam died in a helicopter crash while in Afghanistan. The death hits hard on the immediate family of Grace and her two young daughters. But without thinking twice, Tommy offers his assistance to Grace by fixing things around the house and playing with the children. At first, Grace is cold towards his act of kindness but she soon softens up to him, as do the kids who quickly grows close to Tommy as their father figure.
But Sam isn’t dead. He’s captured by the Taliban and is put through extreme mental pressure that forces him to perform an act that he will never forgive himself for. But everything he did was to stay alive with the hope he could return to his family. The scenes of Sam and another captured soldier are ruthless and disturbing, but necessary to hint to the audience of the emotional strain left inside of Sam.
This is where the film is the most compelling. When Sam returns home he is greeted by his loving family, but you can read the expression on his face. Something is different. Something has changed. Grace explains it to her daughters that he’ll “get better” soon.
Sam begins to have suspicion of what happened between his wife and his brother while he was gone. He tries to get a confession from both of them. Grace admits that her and Tommy kissed, but that was it. Unfortunately, Sam doesn’t believe them when they deny his allegations.
In a truly suspenseful scene at the dinner table during the youngest daughter’s birthday party with the family, tensions rise when the daughters declare they prefer Tommy instead of Sam.
The character study of the three leads is fascinating. The things that this family went through and how all of their actions and thoughts are justified is what makes this film so good. No one could understand the torment that Sam was going through. Because of that he couldn’t talk to anyone about what he did and that made him beyond lonely, even inside of his own home surrounded by his family. And on top of that, he fills his head that Grace and Tommy have been sleeping together. That’s enough to make anyone snap.
Grace was juggling a lot on her plate as well, feeling guilty for opening herself up to Tommy and for allowing him to step inside her family so freely. But she was thinking of her children and how they desperately needed that father figure around. Meanwhile, Tommy was trying to find himself inside a family with a disapproving father. He wanted to feel like he was doing some good and needed the rewards.
The ending is too smooth in my opinion, but the film as a whole leaves a mark once it’s completed. It’s a film about the chaos that is balanced between love and loss, guilt and happiness, revenge and retribution. Here is a mature film that is well-acted and well-written. One of the better war films in recent history.